An appraiser tasked by Palo Alto officials with recalculating how much assistance residents of the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park should be offered in the event of the park's closure has informed the city that he will not perform the assignment and has threatened to resign if further directed to do so.
In a scathing letter submitted last week, David Beccaria defended the initial appraisal report that his firm performed as part of the Relocation Impact Report for the closure of Buena Vista, the city's sole mobile-home park.
The appraisal was a critical component in the report, which took more than two years to complete. Beccaria's appraisal was also the central point of controversy at the six-hour hearing that took place on April 14 and that culminated with the council tentatively approving the closure application.
In signaling their intent to approve the closure application, council members specified that the relocation assistance offered to the mobile-home park's roughly 400 residents would need to be revised to reflect the value of local schools and safety. The council directed Beccaria to move ahead with a fresh analysis that considers those factors. The council is set to formally approve the closure application on May 26.
Beccaria's recent declaration that he will not perform the work that the council assigned him may complicate the discussion and delay the approval. Beccaria, who is CEO of the firm Beccaria & Weber, informed city officials in his letter that his firm will not revise the scope of its appraisal and that it "will not engage in further discussions about appraisal methodology of Scope of Work issues."
During the lengthy April 14 council hearing, Beccaria's analysis faced criticism from appraiser Jim Brabant, who was commissioned by the Buena Vista residents and who concluded that Beccaria's appraisal was "flawed and does not provide reasonable estimates of in-place market value."
Most of the shortcomings, Brabant wrote, have resulted in an under-valuation of the homes. He also noted that in Beccaria's comparison of Buena Vista to other mobile-home parks in the region, the "superior Palo Alto location seems to be lost in the process."
Beccaria, for his part, defended his analysis and argued that the value of schools and safety is already embedded in his figures. He noted that the condition of Buena Vista homes is far worse than homes in other mobile-home parks in the region and claimed that the only reason Buena Vista residents are willing to pay comparable prices for their homes is precisely because of the schools.
"The economics say, 'I want to be in Palo Alto at all costs and I'm willing to do it to get my kids into Stanford or get my kids into the high school and get my kid in the school district. I'm going to make every possible sacrifice to make this happen,'" Beccaria told the council at the April 14 hearing. "That's what's going on. Who can blame them?"
But attorneys for the residents claimed that schools need to be specifically considered in the appraisal, despite the fact that the city's mobile-home-park ordinance does not list schools as a factor that needs to be considered in determining what constitutes a "comparable community" to Palo Alto.
In his May 5 letter, Beccaria bluntly rejects this council direction. He defended his original methodology and argued that none of the criticisms brought against the reports by attorneys or council members have "altered any of our opinions of value, the methodology utilized, or our Scope of Work." He also asserted that he will consider other communication by the city on this topic as "pressuring the appraiser," which is illegal under a 2007 state law.
"I will not allow that to happen," Beccaria wrote. "The appraisal process can not be caught up into the political controversy that exists in this community regarding this mobile home park.
"We must maintain our independence and impartiality. I am not an advocate for any party. I only advocate for the opinions of value stated in the reports. We will not engage in further discussions about appraisal methodology of Scope of Work issues."
In response to Beccaria's refusal, attorneys for the residents issued their own letter Tuesday arguing that it's time for the city to hire a new appraiser and move ahead with a new Relocation Impact Report. Beccaria's "stubborn defense of his scope and methodology and rigid refusal to consider modifying them only compound the serious flaws in his original report," wrote James Zahradka, attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which is representing Buena Vista residents.
Zahradka noted that Brabant's criticism of Beccaria's methodology is "directly aligned with the direction in the council's motion, which seeks to capture the significant value of the public schools and public safety that a Palo Alto address conveys."
"Mr. Beccaria has decided to defy the council and ignore these factors," Zahradka wrote. "Thus, it is clear that for the council's directive to be followed, a different appraiser will need to be appointed, and new appraisals will have to be conducted."
Zahradka urged the council to direct staff to supply a list of qualified appraisers and to "inform the park owner that if he wants to pursue his closure application, he will need to submit a new Relocation Impact Report including information based on the new appraisals."
Margaret Nanda, attorney for the Jisser family, which owns the mobile-home park, has argued throughout the closure process that because schools are not specifically listed in the ordinance, they should not be given particular consideration. She also vigorously objected to the council's demand for new appraisals, asserting her right to challenge the requirement in court.
Attorneys from both sides will have a chance to submit briefs in response to the council's tentative decision before the May 26 meeting. If the council votes to approve the closure application, it would allow the Jisser family to begin the six-month eviction process immediately after.
Nonprofit joins effort to preserve Buena Vista | May 6, 2015
Santa Clara County in a 'race against the clock' to save Buena Vista | April 22, 2015
Attorneys debate the value of a Palo Alto education | April 17, 2015
Lawyer: Buena Vista evictions could start next month | April 16, 2015
Buena Vista's closure hangs on new appraisal | April 14, 2015
Buena Vista residents make final plea to save their homes | April 13, 2015
The Weekly has compiled an archive of news coverage capturing the many voices of the people involved in the fight over Buena Vista.